Japanese companies started learning how to produce competitive big bikes, Maico responded with the phenomenal 1981 490 featured here. A brute of a bike, it had a staggering spread of power and all the legendary Maico handling habits, in spite of wimpy shocks. People bought the bike in droves, and even willingly paid the extra money for decent aftermarket shocks. The bike was so good, that every Japanese factory bought several 490’s and tore them apart down to the last nut and bolt to study them. It took another three years before Japan figured out how to successfully copy the power-band of the 490 Maico ... and the copies were just that, pale copies. With this kind of brilliance, one might think that success was assured at the Maico factory, but, there were inner forces at work to undermine all the good times… Family feuds, poor manufacture and budget cuts literally killed the brand. In 1983, Maico came out with even more outrageous power. It was so good, so flexible, so usable, that to this very day, it’s held up as a standard for modern MX bikes to shoot for. I distinctly recall the press day preview of the ‘83 490 and the introduction of the Sand Spider models. It was at Indian Dunes, and the gathered magazine types and selected dealers who got to ride the bike for a few laps came back slack-jawed and shaking. The bike was a pure brute, but a controllable one. After riding the bike, I was equally impressed, but concerned at the same time. The rear suspension was horribly off, so much so, that the bike sagged in the rear and the shock did little more than move up and down, seemingly at random. When I expressed my concerns to the Maico people, they shrugged and said this was simply a prototype, and that all the settings were off. The production bikes, we were assured, would be correct in all respects. THE NIGHTMARE OF ‘83 People bought the new Maicos in droves, based mostly on enthusiastic magazine test reports. Few of the magazines knew that the distributors gave the press carefully prepped bikes, with most of the flaws removed… But when the average rider/racer out there bought the bike, the fan started getting pelted with dung. Shocks broke on almost every 1982 bike sold. In 1983, transmissions started shredding gears like popcorn, and even bizarre things like rear hubs exploded. Dealers started getting bombarded with complaints from irritated customers, and even lawsuits from injured customers. When a person buys a bike, he doesn’t expect the rear end to collapse from a broken shock when landing from a normal jump. And he certainly wouldn’t expect a rear hub to explode when braking at the end of a highspeed straight-a-way! By the end of 1983, Maico had a stake driven into its heart. In spite of heroic attempts by the U.S. Maico distributor to warranty all the claims, the harm was done. By 1984, Maico was in bankruptcy. From that point forward, no matter who tried to salvage the marque (M-Star being the first futile effort), it was all over. Maico, as we knew it, was dust… THIS BIKE: This is the mighty 1982 Maico 490. A customer of Marks found the bike complete, but it was seized and in a fairly sad condition. In his usual fashion, Mark rubbed his hands in glee, this is not your usual run of the mill rebuild. This is something really unique. All in all, the project took around nine months of TLC. Chassis: The bike was stripped to the frame which was sent in for powdercoating. Some of the parts were scrap – plastics, fuel tank, spokes… All of the electrical components and wiring were still perfect – and the bike still had spark, so that was a luck. “The bike was so good, that every Japanese factory bought several 490’s and tore them apart down to the last nut and bolt to study them. It took another three years before Japan figured out how to successfully copy the power-band of the 490 Maico ... and the copies were just that, pale copies.” 46 DIRT & TRAIL MAGAZINE MAY 2018 8_Greeting poster_KTM Factory Racing Team_Rev1.13_A2.pdf 1 2017/12/12 9:47:13
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